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Boston Slave Riot

Boston Slave Riot

In an event that would send the son of the first Mayor of Boston to make abolitionist speeches across the country, the Boston Slave Riot sewed the spirit of Abolitionism even deeper into the North. With the riots transforming writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau into passionate Abolitionists, Thoreau even going so far as to encourage civil disobedience, the anti-slavery sentiments across the North began to grow rapidly, mounting the tensions between them and the pro-slavery South.

Boston Slave Riot Summary

After the false arrest of a previously enslaved man, Anthony Burns, local Boston Abolitionists turned up in order to attempt to free Burns and overpower the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. With the Kansas Nebraska Act passing earlier in 1854, Northerners were nervous that pro-slavery ideals would start seeping into their territories, as Kansas appeared as though it would become a pro-slavery state.

Just three months before the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Kansas became a free state, throwing off the balance of influence between slave and free states in the country. By its ending in 1865, the anti-slavery North had won the war, abolishing slavery forever across the country. Though the battle at the Boston Slave Riots was lost and Anthony Burns was sent back to Virginia with his owner, the ideology of the North went on to win the war.

The Fugitive Slave Act was passed on September 18th, 1850, along with the Compromise of 1850 between pro-slave-holding Southerners and Northern "Free Soilers." This Act required that along with the capture of runaway slaves, they also must be returned to their owners even if it was a free state they had escaped to. This act contributed to the North's fear of Southern slave-holding ideals becoming a part of their territories.

Despite being found guilty of his false crimes and being sent back to Virginia, Abolitionists in Boston kept close contact with Burns and eventually raised enough money to buy his freedom and return him to Boston.

Boston Slave Riot Timeline

DateEvent
May 24th, 1854
  • 19-year-old Anthony Burns is arrested on Court Street on a false jewelry theft charge
May 25th, 1854
  • 42-year-old Wendell Phillips, son of Boston's first Mayor, is horrified at the news of Burns' arrest.
  • Phillips rushed to the courthouse and convinced Burns to allow Richard Henry Dana Jr. to help his case
  • Phillips gave a speech to the crowd that gathered outside of Faneuil Hall, requesting 500 volunteers to come back in the oncoming days to surround Hall while the trial was in session
  • Unknown to Phillips, another Abolitionist by the name of Thomas Wentworth Higginson had purchased axes and gathered men to also plan an attack on Faneuil Hall
  • The attacks resulted in the death of a guard in the melee and a failed attempt to free the wrongly convicted Anthony Burns
May 29th, 1854
  • Dana Jr. pleaded Burns' innocence for 4.5 hours over a 4-day trial, but to no avail
  • The court at Faneuil Hall decided that Burns was guilty and was to be sent back to Virginia with his master, following the rules of the Fugitive Slave Law
June 2nd, 1854
  • The governor of Massachusetts places Boston under Martial Law; with thousands of troops entering the city to restore and maintain order
  • As the guards walked Anthony Burns to the ship that would return him to Virginia, a crowd of around 50,000 were spitting and screaming at the soldiers "Shame!".

Boston Slave Riot Wendell Phillips StudySmarterFig. 1- Wendell Phillips

Martial Law: the implementation of military control by the government in response to emergencies where civil forces may be overwhelmed.

Boston Slave Riot: Anthony Burns

A key figure during the Boston Slave Riot was Anthony Burns. Read below to learn more about this important figure.

Escape from Slavery

Anthony Burns was born into slavery in Stafford County, Virginia in 1834. His mother was also enslaved by his master, John Suttle. William Brent, who was the family's former master, was hired by Suttle to manage the renting out of his slaves for labor. Upon sustaining an injury at a sawmill that badly mangled one of his haBoston Slave Riot Anthony Burns StudySmarterFig. 2.- Anthony Burnsnds, 15-year-old Anthony Burns was sent to work elsewhere. After arriving in Richmond, Virginia, Burns slowly befriended the sailors he worked around, who eventually convinced him to escape on a boat heading North.

In early February of 1854, Anthony Burns boarded a boat that took him to Boston, where he worked odd jobs in order to sustain himself. On the journey North, he suffered intense dehydration, starvation, and seasickness. His friend could only open the small compartment he was hidden in to give him food and water every few days; just enough to keep him alive. They finally reached Boston in late February or early March, where Burns made the mistake of writing to his currently enslaved brother in Virginia. Suttle found the letters from Burns and followed the address to Boston where he went to reclaim him under the Fugitive Slave Law.

Boston Slave Riot Arrest

After watching him work the entire day at a clothing store, police arrested Burns after he and his co-worker parted ways upon closing the store. Thinking it was only a false charge of jewelry theft and he would be able to explain his innocence, Burns was shocked to see federal soldiers waiting for him in Faneuil Hall.

During his 4-day trial, crowds of hundreds surrounded the Hall, attempting to free him from his trial and oncoming sentence. Wendell Phillips, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Richard Henry Dana Jr. worked tirelessly in an attempt to reverse the power of the Fugitive Slave Law, but to no avail. Burns was to be sent back to Virginia on the 2nd of June 1854.

While being led to the ship, soldiers that were leading him away were viciously screamed at and spit on by angry Boston Abolitionists. Burns held his head high the entire time.

Boston Slave Riot  Burns is being led to a ship to take him back to Virginia StudySmarter Fig. 3- Anthony Burns being led away by Federal troops while Abolitionists protest

Boston Slave Riot Abolitionist

  • Aftermath of the Boston Slave Riot:
    • Wendell Phillips fell into a deep depression after Anthony Burns was taken back to Virginia and the two wrote to each other often in order to keep up to date.
    • Phillips finally rose out of his saddened state, he was more determined than ever before to spread Abolitionism
    • Phillips travelled into the Ohio Valley and all around the Great Lakes giving speeches
    • Burns was bought by a man named David McDaniel, who sold him to Abolitionists for the price of $1,300
    • Burns was finally free and was returned to Boston where Phillips had arranged for him to attend Oberlin College
    • Burns would graduate and become a Baptist Minister but would tragically die due to Tuberculosis at the age of 28

Boston Slave Riot Effects

The Boston Slave Riot not only helped spread Abolitionist ideology but also helped inspire other raids as well, such as the John Brown Raid of Harpers Ferry in 1858. As Abolitionism swept through the North, tensions with the South reached a breaking point. Upon the election of Republican President Abraham Lincoln, Southern states began to announce their secession from the Union. Lincoln's first priority was keeping the Union intact, and he was ready to go to war to do so.

The Civil War began in April 1861 and lasted until April 1865 with Lincoln slowly chipping away at the South's pro-slavery economy over the years in order to gain an upper hand. After the Union Army claimed victory, Southern states were forced to remain a part of the Union, and slavery was permanently abolished through the passing of the 13th Amendment.

Though Abolitionism lost many small battles, it was strong enough to win an entire war, granting freedom to thousands of African Americans.

Boston Slave Riot - Key takeaways

  • The Boston Slave Riots began due to a false arrest of 19-year-old Anthony Burns, who had previously escaped his enslavement in Virginia.
  • The riots challenged the role of the Fugitive Slave Act in the North.
  • Abolitionists from Boston surrounded the courthouse during Burns' trial to attempt to free him from prosecution.
  • Though Anthony Burns was found guilty on the false charges of jewelry theft and deported back to Virginia with his master, he stayed in touch with Wendell Phillips who helped raise money to buy his freedom.
  • The Boston Slave Riots sewed Abolitionist ideology into the North and inspired many more protests and riots across the country before the Civil War broke out in 1861.

Frequently Asked Questions about Boston Slave Riot

The Boston Slave Riot was an attempt by Abolitionists to rescue former slave Anthony Burns from being sent back to Alexandria, Virginia with his previous owner. The riot was a test of Boston's Abolitionism and the power it held in the North. 

Having previously been injured in an accident at a saw mill, Anthony Burns escaped by befriending a sailor at his new work location in Richmond, Virginia. Burns was snuck onto a boat and sent off to freedom in Boston. 

Anthony Burns was important in the Riots because they started due to a false arrest that threatened to send Burns back home with his owner who had recently located him. The Fugitive Slave Act had been in place since 1850, but Burns' arrest was a test of the power it held in free states. 

The Boston Slave Riot was in May of 1854.

A crowd gathered to protest and attempt to rescue Anthony Burns from a false charge that would send him back into slavery. The attempt was unsuccessful and one guard at Faneuil Hall was killed. Upon his march to the boat that would return him to Virginia, thousands of people gathered to scream and spit on the soldiers that led Anthony Burns away. 

Final Boston Slave Riot Quiz

Question

What caused the Boston Slave Riots?

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Answer

The false arrest and deportation of Anthony Burns. 

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Question

Why was Anthony Burns arrested?

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Answer

His master requested his return due to the Fugitive Slave Law.

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Question

When did the Boston Slave Riots take place?

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Answer

1854

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Question

What was the Fugitive Slave Act?

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Answer

An act that was part of the Compromise of 1850; it required that escaped slaves be returned to their masters upon being caught, even if it was within a free state.

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Question

How did Anthony Burns escape his enslavement?

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Answer

He snuck onto a ship heading North. 

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Question

True or False:

The Boston Slave Riots sewed a deeper belief of Abolitionism into the North.

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Answer

True

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Question

True or False:

The North feared that because of the Kansas Nebraska Act, pro-slavery ideology would seep into their territories. 

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Answer

True

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Question

How many people were killed in the Boston Slave Riots?

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Answer

1

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Question

True or False:

Wendell Phillips did not come out of his deep depression after the deportation of Anthony Burns and failed as an Abolitionist speaker.

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Answer

False 

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Question

True or False:

The Boston Slave Riots encouraged the mounting tensions between the anti-slavery North and the pro-slavery South, eventually leading to the Civil War.

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Answer

True

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